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Basketball: Ohio State tough vs. Irish attack

Greg Arbogast | Wednesday, December 10, 2008

With under 10 seconds to play Saturday against Ohio State and Notre Dame needing a three-pointer to tie the game, Kyle McAlarney fired away from at least six feet behind the 3-point line.

It was probably the best shot he was going to get.

The Buckeyes stifled Notre Dame’s high-powered offense, especially McAlarney and the Irish’s 3-point shooting, like no other Irish opponent this season. McAlarney, who entered Saturday’s game having hit 10, nine and seven treys in his previous three games, missed all six of his 3-point attempts on Saturday.

As a team, Notre Dame shot 37-percent from behind the arc and 38-percent overall from the field – well below the team’s season averages of 42- and 46-percent, respectively. The team’s 62 points were also well short of the team’s season average of 84 points-per-game.

“We weren’t ourselves,” McAlarney said. “I was talking to some of the guys, and we were saying it just didn’t feel right.”

On Saturday, Ohio State combined a three-quarter-court press with a 1-2-2 half-court zone. That approach slowed Notre Dame’s tempo down forcing the Irish into a half-court game where the Buckeyes expanded their defense towards the three-point line paying razor-sharp attention to the Irish’s shooters, especially McAlarney.

“They were talking really well,” McAlarney said. “If I ran the baseline, they were [saying] here comes the shooter. Their big guys extended really well out with their length, and it was tough for a short guy like me to get a shot off.”

It didn’t help that Notre Dame lost the rebounding battle to Ohio State 43-36. Failing to get defensive rebounds prevented the Irish from running in transition forcing the team to bring the ball up against the Buckeyes’ press. That full-court pressure also gave the Irish trouble as they committed several turnovers including two crucial ones midway through the first half.

“We had a couple of spurts where they really got to us,” Brey said. “After that stretch where we turned it over a few times in the first half, we never attacked the rest of the game whether it was the press or their zone in the half-court.

“It was a little bit of apprehension overall after the turnovers. We have the two turnovers in a row, and the whole atmosphere changed. Your will was broken a little bit, and I was a little disappointed in that because we need to be more mentally tough.”

Given Ohio State’s success in slowing down the Notre Dame offense, a lingering question is if other teams will emulate the Buckeyes supposed blue-print for defensive success against the Irish. Brey said that it wasn’t lost on him that other teams may now try to zone-press Notre Dame more than they have in the past.

Still, would other teams have the personnel to successfully play such a defense against Notre Dame? It’s not every team that has Dallas Lauderdale – a forward with a 7-5 wingspan capable of defending out on the three-point line.

Yet the Big East will surely have teams with similar length and athletic ability on the defensive end. Louisville and Georgetown are both currently ranked top-ten nationally in defensive field goal percentage – both ahead of the Buckeyes, who are 11th in the nation.

“I’m sure other teams will be capable because in the Big East other teams will have similar bodies as Ohio State,” forward Ryan Ayers said. “It will be a challenge for us if other teams go to that zone.”

Whether or not future Irish opponents are capable of playing the same caliber of defense as Ohio State, Notre Dame feels they will be prepared for it. Several players emphasized the blame for Saturday’s disappointing offensive performance laid more with the Irish than the Buckeyes’ defense.

McAlarney talked about how the Irish would approach the same style of defense should they see it again, and his remarks echoed Brey’s comments about how his team was taken out of their attacking mindset Saturday.

“Our mentality will be different. No [change in] strategy really. We know how to play so well that we’ll figure out how to get to open areas. It was a matter of that night it was really us,” he said. “Our energy level wasn’t there, and I think we learned from that game that we have to bring it every night. When we didn’t bring it, we’re a normal team.”